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State's Noriega, Maisto Call Inter-American Ministers' Meeting a Success

Officials say event will help protect democracy in Americas

Posted: June 8, 2005 Main article: United States to host June 5-7 inter-American meeting in Florida  

Fort Lauderdale, Florida -- A June 5-7 meeting of foreign ministers of the 34 democratic nations of the Americas proved very successful in laying the groundwork for protecting democracy in the Western Hemisphere, say U.S. officials Roger Noriega and John Maisto.

Speaking at a June 7 briefing following the conclusion of the 35th General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), the U.S. State Department's Noriega said resolutions hammered out during the meeting will make the OAS more "pro-active" in heading off crises in the region before they can "rupture" a nation's democracy.

Noriega said the foreign ministers in Fort Lauderdale expressed a strong consensus in their Declaration of Florida and in a separate resolution that they wanted a more proactive OAS to identify where democracies in the region are weak and to "empower" the OAS secretary-general to devise new ways and to take action to respond to those weaknesses before they get out of control.

Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said at a midnight news conference held after many hours of crafting exact language in the Florida declaration and in resolutions passed at the assembly, that a more proactive OAS could have helped defuse crises in several countries, including Ecuador and Bolivia, and earlier in Haiti "where the OAS addressed the issue too late."

The agreements produced in Fort Lauderdale, said Noriega, state "very clearly" that countries in the Western Hemisphere "must be governed democratically, and that governments must be accountable to their people."

He noted that one resolution approved by the General Assembly supports "effective compliance" with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which "provides an impetus for continued development of a vibrant, multilateral organization that can grow even more strong to advance our common values and our common needs." That charter, adopted by the OAS member states in September 2001, calls for the countries of the hemisphere to promote and defend democracy.

Noriega sought to dispel the notion that the United States wanted more forceful language to be included in the charter that would impose sanctions on countries that violate democratic governance. Those who believed the Bush administration wanted such sanctions had a "mistaken impression," said Noriega.

"Our emphasis has always been on solidarity and moving more proactively to head off breaks in the democratic order," Noriega said, adding: "If you get to a point where you're sanctioning countries, [then] you've failed." Avoiding the breakdown in democracy has always been the central objective of the Democratic Charter, Noriega said.

The U.S. official hailed the Fort Lauderdale event as exceeding all expectations.

Noriega said that "by working together like never before," the OAS is "better prepared, better capable, better committed to acting proactively in the defense of democracy, and also in delivering the benefits of democracy," the latter point being the U.S.-selected theme of the Fort Lauderdale assembly.

The United States, Noriega said, shares the OAS secretary-general's "commitment to a building a more effective, agile organization that, in particular, will address the challenges to democracy that many of the countries in our region face." He added that the Declaration of Florida, along with the resolution approved in Fort Lauderdale on representative democracy, "makes very clear that now, more than ever," the OAS needs to be more actively involved in promoting and defending human rights and democracy in the Americas.

The Western Hemisphere, he said, is "unique in [its] consensus in favor of representative democracy as the only real legitimate form of government" of the OAS member states, and "unique in its commitment to govern better, well, justly, and extending to people access to economic opportunity so that they may have the tools that they need to build better lives for themselves and their children and to contribute to the common good."


John Maisto, U.S. permanent representative to the OAS, elaborated on Noriega's remarks by saying the participants in Fort Lauderdale followed through on the theme of the General Assembly -- "Delivering the Benefits of Democracy" -- by adopting resolutions that were "aimed at, and focused upon, doing just that."

Maisto said one Chilean-proposed resolution established several "very important" new ways of giving the OAS secretary-general the power to promote and defend democracy, through the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

That same resolution, said Maisto, establishes an "early-warning system for democracy" when it is in danger of failing. The resolution allows the secretary-general to bring to the OAS Permanent Council's attention those situations that might lead to action under the organization's Democratic Charter.

Maisto also said that in the Chilean resolution and in the Declaration of Florida there are "substantial references" calling upon civil society groups to express their views on the fulfillment of the Democratic Charter and on how the OAS can best support countries in the Western Hemisphere.

"So those are very, very substantial, tangible aspects" resulting from the meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Maisto said.

The United States, he said, introduced a resolution about delivering democracy's benefits in order to advance the region's economic and social development goals.

Maisto concluded that the "very rich and substantive" resolutions passed at the event regarding security, human rights, and on other issues promoting democracy are what make the OAS "so unique." Everything needed to fulfill the OAS's Democratic Charter is "all there" in the set of resolutions and in the "Declaration of Florida" adopted in Fort Lauderdale, Maisto said.


On another issue related to the Fort Lauderdale assembly, the OAS elected Albert Ramdin, a diplomat from Suriname, to become the organization's next assistant secretary-general. Helped by support from countries in the Caribbean region, of which Suriname is a part, Ramdin won the election by a vote of 19 to 14, with one abstention, among the 34 OAS member states at the meeting. The other candidate was former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Ernesto Leal.

Ramdin will work with the OAS's new secretary-general, Jose Miguel Insulza of Chile, who assumed his post May 26.

Officials from Suriname said Ramdin's election will increase the influence of Caribbean nations in the workings of the OAS and in Western Hemisphere affairs.

Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer


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